FIAT 124 SPIDER REVIEW

Perfect for some summer fun, we look at this stylish and peppy Italian drop-top

Chrome-bumper models are the most sought after, but all versions benefit from glorious Pininfarina styling

Chrome-bumper models are the most sought after, but all versions benefit from glorious Pininfarina styling

An intriguing alternative to the MGB and Alfa Spider, the Fiat was a Pininfarina design that was made for almost two decades. Proven mechanicals and pretty looks contributed to that longevity and with all cars built in left-hand drive, more than 80 per cent went to the USA. Regular updates kept things fresh, including the later fuel-injected 2.0-litre engines which added performance the smaller-engined models lacked


VITAL STATISTICS

Fiat 124 Spider 1800

Engine                                    1756cc/4-cylinder/DOHC

Power (bhp@rpm)                  116bhp@6000rpm

Torque (lb ft@rpm)                 113lb ft@4000rpm

Top speed                                116mph

0-60mph                                  9.6sec

Consumption                            28mpg

Gearbox                                    5-speed manual


WHAT TO LOOK FOR

BODYWORK & CHASSIS
 

Potentially hefty restoration costs make checking for rot a vital task. Take a close look at the doors, wings, and wheel arches as well as the inner wings, front suspension turrets, and jacking points. The floor pan behind the rear seats needs careful examination, but it’s the sills that probably need most attention – the three-piece construction adds vital strength and removing the cosmetic bolt-on outer cover is the only way to be sure of their condition. A check of the panel gaps and door shut-lines will reveal any signs of accident damage too. Watch for bodged right-hand drive conversions as well. Panels for early examples are getting rare – especially replacement bonnets – while doors aren’t always interchangeable between models. It’s not unusual to find incorrect items used as replacements.

ENGINE

The twin-cam engines are fundamentally strong with proper maintenance though it’s worth checking for blown head gaskets (‘mayonnaise’ under the oil cap is the giveaway), oil leaks and excessive exhaust smoke. Cambelts aren’t known for early failure but check the history to see when it was last changed. Carburettor models used Solex or Weber units and wear can cause lumpy running, while the Bosch fuel-injection system is generally trouble-free. A test drive will reveal any issues in this area. It’s worth checking for impact damage to the sump which sits quite close to the ground – even if the sump itself is okay, the impact can damage the oil pump within so a flickering oil light will need urgent investigation to avoid terminal engine damage.

RUNNING GEAR

Gearboxes that are allowed to run low on oil will lead to excessive wear and noise, while jumping out of gear can be a problem. Back axles are a weak point too – particularly on 2.0-litre models – so listen out for whines or clunks as re-builds can be time consuming and expensive. The suspension and all-round disc brakes aren’t really problematic, so very much a case of checking for wear and tear. 

Worn bushes and an ineffective handbrake are likely to be the extent of the problems assuming the previous owner was generally conscientious. A seized idler arm can cause stiff or vague steering though. One area worth checking is the front crossmember which can corrode and crack, so clunks from the front end or wandering on the road should ring alarm bells.


INTERIOR

Interior trim parts for early cars are getting scarce, replacing the upholstery, carpets or door cards on most models is straightforward. Watch for splits in the top of the dashboard – normally caused by sun damage, which can be tricky to repair. Broken seat backs can also be a problem. Check for water ingress and leaking heater units that can lead to corrosion and ensure the hood and frame are undamaged. Electrical issues are likely to be caused by poor earth connections or a degraded wiring loom.


OUR VERDICT

Interior trim parts for early cars are getting scarce, replacing the upholstery, carpets or door cards on most models is straightforward. Watch for splits in the top of the dashboard – normally caused by sun damage, which can be tricky to repair. Broken seat backs can also be a problem. Check for water ingress and leaking heater units that can lead to corrosion and ensure the hood and frame are undamaged. Electrical issues are likely to be caused by poor earth connections or a degraded wiring loom.

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